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Tortured, Starved: Documentary Exposes Abuse of Temple Elephants in Kerala, India [Watch]

May 30, 2016 04:13 AM EDT
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Asian elephants 5
(Photo : Flickr/Creative Commons/dwijen mahanta)
An Asian elephant with chains on its ankle lies on the ground.

Behind the vivacious religious festivities in India are hundreds of elephants chained to tree stumps, beaten into submission and starved on a daily basis.

To highlight the plight of these elephants, Sangita Iyer, an award-winning environmental journalist, made an epic documentary, Gods in Shackles, capturing the struggle of the captive elephants in the state of Kerala, Southern India.

Asian elephants 1
(Photo : Flickr/Creative Commons/Andy Wright)
Asian elephants participating in one of India's festivals

Asian elephants have been listed endangered by IUCN since 1986. Despite that, Kerala has more than seven hundred elephants in captivity, using them for religious ceremonies and as labor force at timber yards.

Considered a state animal, these elephants are sometimes referred to as the "sons of the sahya," symbolizing a feudal status or as the embodiment of "Lord Ganesh," the god of beginning, widely revered as the obstacle remover.

During festivities, usually held between December to May, the Asian elephants adorned with golds and other ornaments are forced to walk with shackled legs under a scorching sun. Without food nor water, the animals are beaten with a 10-meter pole to make them walk faster and obey the orders. And for what? For religion, and worse, for people's entertainment.

Asian elephants 3
(Photo : Flickr/Creative Commons/Kevin Jones)
Asian elephant with painted face.

Sangita Iyer's film further details the abuse the poor elephants go through.

"I was appalled to see a blind elephant, this majestic, magnificent animal that has so much power was completely broken in sprit. To me that was very hurtful," Iyer said in a pre-production trailer released in the God in Shackles website.

"Then the other brutality that I saw was an elephant has injuries on his ankle, and on those injuries, there were shackles and when I asked the handler how come he has such deep injuries, he tried to justify it by saying he had to chain him tightly because they did not want him to get out of control," she added.

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(Photo : Flickr/Creative Commons/Christian)
A trainor puts chains on the ankle of an Asian elephant in India.

According to Iyer, the Asian elephants participating in festivals, approximately carry 300 to 400 kilos of weight which is very unfortunate for them because their body is not designed to carry such weight.

According to Daily Mail, before arriving to the temples where they are used for religious festivities, these Asian elephants are placed in a "training camp," where they are tortured or "taught."

One of their reporters visited the training camp to learn about it. Recalling the experience in an article, she said there were about 57 Asian elephants routinely blinded to make them dependent of the mahout or their masters/trainors, frequently beaten with iron bars and brutally chained with metals that cut their flesh.

Asian elephant species is one of the last few mega-herbivores existing on earth. Given their size, elephants are required to consume large quantities of food per day. Their energy requirement must be filled with different nutrients coming from variety of plants in different locations.

As mentioned by Ajay Desai, Co-Chair of IUCN Asian Elephant Specialist Group, elephants in the wild move for about 12 to 16 hours searching for food in different locations. However, in the training camp, elephants are given a concentrated food in one location.

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(Photo : Flickr/Creative Commons/Giles Clark)
Asian elephants in the training camp in India.

Elephants become stressed when held in captive as they are grazing animals meant to be in motion. When elephants become stressed they become violent.

The absurdity is stark and clear. While the nation is popularly known as worshipper of gods, elephants, a powerful symbol of their most revered God, are tortured and exploited for revenue and entertainment to honor religion.

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